Jim Moran: Military Not Public Service, Just Government Paycheck

Virginia's answer to Joe Biden has put his foot in his mouth once again. It won't prevent him from getting an 11th term.

The gang at Retire Jim Moran caught Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA-8) telling the Arlington County Democratic Committee that, “What [Republicans] do is find candidates, usually stealth candidates, that haven’t been in office, haven’t served or performed in any kind of public service. My opponent is typical, frankly.”

As Washington Examiner’s Barbara Hollingworth notes, however, “Moran’s opponent happens to be Col. Patrick Murray (US Army-Ret.), who served 24 years in uniform, was deployed to four different combat zones, including Baghdad, as part of the 2007 troop surge under Gen. David Petraeus, and was even shot at by foreign combatants. If that isn’t public service, I don’t know what is.”

And, as the RetireJimMoran.com folks point out, “Moran can’t say he misspoke, because he proves he knows about Murray’s military service with his next comment, “And of course, for 24 years, he’s taken a government check because, frankly, the military still is part of the Federal government, uh, and, yet, his principle platform is to cut government spending.”

So, apparently, in Jim Moran’s mind, not only is serving two decades in the military, including four combat deployments, not public service but it’s akin to a welfare program. And, of course, those who took “a government check” as military officers ought to at least have the decency to support unlimited spending on other public programs.

Now, in fairness to Moran, he’s not completely anti-military. As Hollingsworth reminds us, Moran was awarded the Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award by the Military Officers Association of America back in 1999. She does it in the context of slamming him for using that to imply that MOAA is endorsing him for re-election, which the MOAA has insisted he stop doing since they’re a nonprofit and don’t endorse political candidates. But, presumably, there was a time when the MOAA thought he was doing something constructive to support the military.

And, goodness knows, this isn’t the dumbest thing Jim Moran has ever said. He’s a veritable Joe Biden on that score.

Still, he was expressing a viewpoint common to a certain segment on the left.  ”Public service” means working in politics or at least one of the “helping” agencies of government.

Moran, currently in his 10th term representing my neighboring district, is a government lifer. He finished college in 1967 and, rather than following most of his generational brethren to Vietnam he instead went to Pittsburgh for an MPA. And from there, “a prestigious financial management internship program through the Department Health, Education and the Workforce.” (Actually, the W stood for Welfare.  He followed that with several other federal jobs  before going into local politics in 1979, getting elected to the Alexandria City Council, followed by stints as Vice Maylor (1982 to 1985), Mayor (1986 to 1990), and then on to Congress (1991 to present).

Regardless of his propensity to say outrageous things, Moran’s likely to be re-elected.  Murray is likely too conservative for the district, which has been neatly gerrymandered to ensure Moran gets re-elected.  (Parts of the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County are in each of three Congressional Districts.)  And Moran has two decades of success in bringing home the bacon and has the power to do it with a senior seat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee.   But, if a Republican wave were to somehow knock Moran out of his boat, I wouldn’t be the least bit upset.

Minor errors in the last paragraph corrected.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. One minor quibble.

    Jim Moran makes Joe Biden seem like a veritable Shakespearean actor by comparison

  2. James Joyner says:

    Biden’s profile allows him to outpace Moran in sheer volume of stupid statements that draw national attention. But Biden manages to intermingle his gaffes with enough genuinely useful insights to make the gaffes charming. If Moran has ever said anything useful, it hasn’t risen to my notice.

  3. Andy says:

    He has probably taken himself out of any future aspirations for the Senate. I don’t see how someone expressing such views could ever hope to be a Senator from Virginia.

  4. Robert in SF says:

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to draw some grandiose conclusion about his feelings about the military from this one incident.

    In aspects related to the purpose of the military, it isn’t “public service”, it’s “country service” or “national service”…And I think you are being intellectually dishonest to imply that his statement about the tactics of the Republicans in choosing candidates, and then try to spin it that he is denigrating the service of his opponent to his country.

    And as for your claim it being a “viewpoint common to a certain segment on the left,” try going around and posting on the right wing blogs and talking-point-repeating-forums that service in the military is “public service” and see where that gets you. You will get rabid anti-community organizing tirades thrown out so fast you’ll lose your breath. Try posting that you want to thank the military service members for their “public service” and see what that gets you.

    And then to back-hand defend this guy with: “now, in fairness to Moran, he’s not completely anti-military,” as though somehow he is almost anti-military based on this one statement! Wow! That is a whole other level of ass-hattery! I mean, how about “I don’t think you beat your wife *all* the time….I mean, I saw you one time at a party not beating your wife, so there ya go!” Nice.

    You also take a small-minded/partisan approach (willfully, or is it just a reflex now?) to imply that the candidate demands “military officers ought to at least have the decency to support unlimited spending on other public programs”. That sort of leap of logic and character stereotyping is revealing about your own laziness in defending your prejudice. You either won’t or can’t support your opinions, so you just project an opinion onto him to substantiate your own beliefs about him. No sources or citations to even try to support that. As though any reasonable person would support that sort of hyperbolic stand of “unlimited spending on other programs”…

    And I can easily see the nuance in his statement about “government paycheck”, especially in the regards of the hypocrisy that surrounds the right/tea wings rants about “government spending”.

    The right wing members of the Republic Party and Tea Party spout off their talking points about the Democrats going unchecked as far as unlimited, unfunded spending, and yet the military is sacrosanct for a blank check, as though they were somehow super-human and above all reproach and oversight as far as responsible spending, and also somehow *not* part of the government. Unless you know of some other reason they would refuse all spending cuts (AKA efficient and effective rationalized spending) for the military and “defense”, it just comes off as jingoistic to me.)

    I am disappointed strongly in the quality of this posting on OTB.

  5. James,

    Also, Biden is at least funny sometimes. After living here twenty years, during most of which Moran has been in Congress, I can honestly say that Jim Moran is just an embarrassment at this point.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Robert in SF:

    I’m not sure how you could characterize ““What [Republicans] do is find candidates, usually stealth candidates, that haven’t been in office, haven’t served or performed in any kind of public service. My opponent is typical, frankly” as anything other than “denigrating the service of his opponent to his country.” He’s clearly saying that Murray hasn’t severed or performed any kind of public service! That’s denigrating!

    Your wife beating tirade makes no sense whatsoever. Moran has made an outrageous statement here; he’s not being asked to prove a negative.

    As to my statement that Moran demands “military officers ought to at least have the decency to support unlimited spending on other public programs,” it’s a pretty reasonable interpretation of “for 24 years, he’s taken a government check because, frankly, the military still is part of the Federal government, uh, and, yet, his principle platform is to cut government spending.” He’s saying that Murray is a hypocrite for wanting to cut government spending after taking a government check. But, surely, one can simultaneously support military officers getting paid for their service and want to cut government spending?

  7. Robert in SF says:

    James: I don’t think pretty much anyone thinks of military service as “public service”, especially not the “conservatives”, hence the term “military service” and “serve your country”. Note that it’s not the cultural norm in the USA to say “Thanks for your public service Private Ryan!”….it’s the denigration of public service here that I see, as though somehow serving the public, using the laymen’s definition, as seen as somehow less than “real work”.

    I am trying not to extrapolate what he was saying or what he believes from these quotes, and it’s hard. But I can say what he makes be think about, and that’s this conclusion: when people think “public service” they don’t think military service is included. Not without some sort of push-queueing, such as a poll that includes a prompt such as (bad examples ahead),

    Which of these is the highest form of public service?
    A. Volunteering at a help center for the unemployed,
    B. Charity work for orphans,
    C. Serving as elected head of a committee for raising awareness of health issue such-and-such that affects unborn kids and is preventable with simple neo-natal vitamins,
    D. Military Service”

    But if you asked people, outside of prompting circumstances (not at a military event or political rallys) “Name a way people provide “public service”, hardly any would be “serve in the military”.

    Public service is first and primarily thought of as dealing with issues that affect the people directly in their day to day lives, not the country and your interpretation is the pejorative take on his statement and I think you know it.

    Moran’s statement does not denigrate his military service, just as he doesn’t denigrate his dental hygiene. It’s not relevant to the topic at hand, a lack of public service. His military service is only referenced in the context of how he is a “government employee” but Moran characterizes him as “anti government”. So he is trying to paint him as a hypocrite, or at least as a thoughtless, un-nuanced, talking point regurgitating, right wing candidate. Right or wrong, that’s his point. He’s making a point about how the right wing seems to lump all gubmint together, except the Military, and government is evil, and so on and so on.

    And how you could not see how your statement, “Now, in fairness to Moran, he’s not completely anti-military,” isn’t a back-handed defense, I don’t know. The inclusion of the word “completely” implies that his is somewhat anti-military, of which you have absolutely no support and isn’t reasonable to draw as a conclusion at all. Unless you are having a knee-jerk reaction or a wilfull disregard for integrity in your stances. Sorry, but my analogy to “I am glad to see you don’t beat your wife *all* the time” is pretty good here for showing how your choice of words shows that you are begging the question about his stance on the military [and I think I actually used “begging the question” correctly in this sentence…maybe].

    Your conclusion that Moran wants unlimited spending in other areas is also asinine and unsupported, as well. It’s completely without merit to state that conclusion. It’s just as, if not more, reasonable to conclude that Moran is countering the guy’s supposed anti-government’s stance by showing his hypocrisy in being a government employee and not thinking of himself as one and seeing the merit in government. How you jump to Moran wanting a blank check for all *other” government spending comes off as partisan stereotyping.

  8. george says:

    Actually there’s a certain consistency in republicans saying that military service isn’t public service, as they typically don’t include it as part of gov’t when talking about decreasing gov’t size – ie they say big military isn’t big gov’t.

    I’d argue that simply factually wrong – if the gov’t pays for it its part of the gov’t, but they’re consistently wrong.

  9. Andy says:

    I don’t think pretty much anyone thinks of military service as “public service”

    Really? Do you have any actual data to back that assertion up?

    A second question. I’m in the National Guard. I work with Predator UAV’s and spend most of my time supporting our military forces overseas. However, I also have a duty to my state when mobilized by the Governor. Last summer we were called on to assist local authorities in dealing with a serious flood. Am I providing a “public service” to my nation and my community?

    Finally, one of the primary reasons government exists is to provide for a common defense. To say that the individuals who take oaths and are charged with that task, even if it means giving up their lives, are somehow not providing a public service seems to be a flatly wrong argument considering thousands of years of history. Military and security forces are one service that every government provides.

  10. EJ says:

    “Murphy is likely too conservative for the district, which has been neatly gerrymandered to ensure Moran gets re-elected. (Parts of Alexandria are in each of three Congressional Districts.)”

    Not to be nitpicky here. But its Murray, not Murphy, and its Fairfax that is gerrymandered into 3 districts, not Alexandria.

  11. Robert in SF says:


    I was hopeful that my phrasing as it “I think…” made it clear this was my opinion, and not an assertion of fact. Maybe that was too subtle? But just for reference:

    Employment within a governmental system, especially within the civil service.
    A service performed for the benefit of the public, especially by a nonprofit organization.
    The business of supplying an essential commodity, such as water or electricity, or a service, such as communications or transportation, to the public.

    Do you tell people that your a public service employee? Do you tell people that you joined the military so you could perform public service?

    To clarify, as bluntly as I can, military service is serving the public, but most people don’t think of military service under the umbrella of the term “public service”….they think…maybe firefighter, cop, charity work, etc. That’s why the phrase “military service” or “serving your country” is the go-to phrase, and “public service” is probably not often used in conversation about the military service members.

    We are talking about (or at least I am) the use of the term “public service” and its laymen usage at that, and not the worth and contribution of the military to the public. Don’t think that

    You are getting distracted away from the point of the topic I started in my comments, into some sort of defense of the supposed castigation about the military…My topic/point was that people don’t think of military service when they they of public service in the context that Moran was using it and how most people use it.

  12. James Joyner says:


    Errors corrected. The lines for Congressional Districts in these parts are rather random and I thought that Frank Wolf, who represented me when I lived in Ashburn, was also representing a part of Alexandria/Fairfax County. But that district stops just short. I’m just outside Moran’s district despite an Alexandria mailing address.

  13. Andy says:

    Robert in SF,

    So you’re essentially making an argument about semantics and the meaning of “public service.” You seem to believe that most people do not think military service is “public service.” I tend to think that many, if not most, people do think military service is “public service.” I am perfectly willing to change my view if you can provide some data to back up your claims.

    Given the reaction by many to Rep. Moran’s comments, however, it appears to me that a non-trivial number of people agree with my position because they interpreted his comments similarly to how I interpreted them. I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that most people who are actually serving in the military do consider their service a “public service.” They do not semantically discriminate between “national” “military” and “public” service.

    Whether or not “most” of the general population make the semantic distinction you allege they make does not change the fact that Rep. Moran was denigrating his opponent’s military service by reducing it to simply taking a paycheck for 24 years. It seems to me it’s completely legitimate to criticize him for that.

  14. Robert in SF says:


    I will state this as simply as possible:

    Ask people to think of 3 public service jobs, see if they include military service. I am confident that most people would not. They will say fireman, policeman, and ….teacher? or civil servant.

    Ask people if the military serves the public, and odds are (again IMHO) that some will say yes, and some would say “No, they serve their country! They ain’y no damned pencil-necked /civil/ servant paper pusher!”…or some other self-imposed definition that elevates military service ABOVE public service.

    In other words, when people hear someone say the term “public service” as a job, they don’t tend to think of military service. You keep phrasing it the reverse way around, as though I am saying people don’t think of military service as public service. My point is that people don’t tend to think military when they hear public service.

    You claim, “they do not semantically discriminate between “national” “military” and “public” service.” I too am confident they consider their service as service to the public, but I bet they don’t use that term to describe it when they talk about their service, at least not without some prompting by discussing it within the context of discussions like this.

    And Moran didn’t denigrate his military service based on the statement I read, but sure enough, I can see how you would think that given the headline of the blog entry, and the slant it lends to the piece…but after all, that what this blog entry was: an opinion piece.

    So it’s only natural to slant the headline towards the opinion expressed, of course. Moran’s statement was about how the man was a government employee for so long, but still wants to claim his principle is to cut government spending, as though the military isn’t part of the government. See the word “because” in this quote: “…because, frankly, the military still is part of the Federal government, uh, and, yet, his principle platform is to cut government spending.:..” He didn’t say a word in this edited speech about how his service was somehow only about a paycheck, or was only for a paycheck, or only worth a paycheck, or had not value other than a paycheck, or was done just so he could get a paycheck, or whatever way you want to spin it.

    I can’t tell anymore than that, since the video is such a hit-piece based on this one edited speech. Frankly I am little tired of the whole politics of military service being used as though any sort of criticism of the military or their structure or of a member of the military is hitting a nursing mother in the mouth with a burning flag at a baseball game on Independence Day while standing on the Constitution. It’s almost a Saturday Night Live skit (back when they were funny) how any mention of the military or someone in the military that doesn’t heap *enough* praise somehow is like spitting on Vietnam vets when they came home…

    And because you hold source data to support opinions, can you cite the source for your claim: “Given the reaction by *many* to Rep. Moran’s comments”? I see some reactions here, but I hardly claim that’s many. Maybe on the youtube page for the video,or on the homepage for the group that put this together? Doesn’t really matter, since many people can be persuaded to feel passionately about something that is blown way out of proportion and taken way out of context. Doesn’t make it right.

  15. Congress not public service, just a government check.

  16. MarkedMan says:

    Oh for crying out loud. How can anyone be trying to justify this? People join the military for lots of reasons (useless factoid: my uncle joined it because his uncle, fearing a life of drunkenness and eventual jail time, got him drunk and enlisted him shortly after WWII). But most of the military people I know have a core part of their motivation that of serving their country, i.e. “Public Service”. Moran said something stupid, its been reported and it is a legitimate point of discussion as to whether his condition of stupidity is chronic or acute. But trying to justify his statement? C’mon!

  17. sookie says:

    >> But, surely, one can simultaneously support military officers getting paid for their service and want to cut government spending? <<

    Not if you're a screaming lefty your can't.

    But to further his point. Many employees who work for the government, at any level, cannot bring themselves to think or vote for cutting government spending. I think this is accurate on on the whole and especially true if they are part of a public service union members.